E&C Republicans Demand Answers from Biden Administration on Migrant Children Exploitation
Letter Comes on the Heels of Explosive New Reporting on Child Work Exploitation
Washington, D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Morgan Griffith (R-VA), and Subcommittee on Health Chair Brett Guthrie (R-KY) wrote to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra to demand accountability for the safety of migrant children who are coming to our country at an alarmingly high rate.
The letter follows an explosive New York Times report titled, “Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the U.S.” The members have also provided a formal notice for HHS to preserve all existing and future records and materials—including via text messages and other apps on government and personal devices—related to the matter.
“It’s unconscionable that innocent children are being exploited because of the Biden administration’s negligence and open-border agenda, which will only get worse if he lifts Title 42. What the president started with his border crisis is now a human rights crisis for unaccompanied minors. This cannot continue. The Biden administration must be held accountable for the cruel conditions, danger, and despair that these children have experienced,” the Members said.
KEY LETTER EXCERPTS:
The number of unaccompanied children referred to ORR has skyrocketed from a low of 15,381 in fiscal year 2020 to 122,731 in fiscal year 2021 and 128,904 in fiscal year 2022. At the same time, the numbers of unaccompanied children were skyrocketing, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) capacity to care for children diminished.
The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently published findings related to the operation of the EIS at Fort Bliss, the largest of the EIS facilities, concluding that case managers lacked sufficient child welfare training and ineffectively coordinated reuniting children with parents/sponsors; one interviewee informed the OIG there was a “‘pervasive sense of despair’ among children at the facility who reportedly experienced distress, anxiety, and in some cases, panic attacks.” The OIG reported on instances of children physically harming themselves due to case manager negligence.
According to the OIG, ORR supervisors grew concerned policy changes prioritized fast tracking release of unaccompanied children to sponsors quickly, rather than vetting sponsors and protecting “children from risks such as trafficking and exploitation.” Supervisors also reported to the OIG that inexperienced ORR case managers “failed to consider children’s significant history of abuse and neglect or whether sex offenders resided in the potential sponsor’s household.” Recent reporting by the New York Times found that over the last two years, one month after placing children with an adult, HHS “could not reach more than 85,000 children” and the “agency lost immediate contact with a third of migrant children.” Additionally, the New York Times reported that managers at ORR were “worried that labor trafficking was increasing and ... the office had become ‘one that rewards individuals for making quick releases, and not one that rewards individuals for preventing unsafe releases.’"
The Members are demanding a briefing from HHS by March 19, 2023, on the following topics, including:
- What retroactive screening efforts (e.g., searches of sex offender registry, criminal records, etc.) were conducted after the OIG informed ORR about its findings at Fort Bliss to ensure children were not released to households with unsafe sponsors/individuals residing there?
- From fiscal year 2021 to the present, which ORR facilities waived sponsor vetting procedures?
- From fiscal year 2021 to the present, how many total children under ORR custody were removed from the household they were originally released to?
- From fiscal year 2021 to the present, the total amount of funds spent by HHS on ORR facilities, contractors and placement efforts?
- Provide Committee with internal documents created in fiscal year 2021 to the present (e.g., emails, texts, reports, memos, etc.) regarding waiving sponsor vetting procedures.
- Provide Committee with internal documents created in fiscal year 2021 to the present (e.g., emails, texts, reports, memos, etc.) regarding ORR employees views on the ORR sponsor screening procedures.
CLICK HERE to read the letter.